Helena's happy return
PUBLISHED: 11:28 02 February 2006 | UPDATED: 20:19 03 May 2010
IN spite of its name, the Amadeus Chamber Orchestra was not celebrating Mozart's 250th birthday at the weekend. Instead they treated their audience at St Saviour's Church in St Albans to an outstanding performance of Sergei Prokofiev's Second Violin Conce
IN spite of its name, the Amadeus Chamber Orchestra was not celebrating Mozart's 250th birthday at the weekend. Instead they treated their audience at St Saviour's Church in St Albans to an outstanding performance of Sergei Prokofiev's Second Violin Concerto with Harpenden violinist Helena Wood. Now a much-sought-after chamber musician and orchestra leader, Helena appears all too rarely in the area and it is several years since I last heard her but her performance on Saturday was well worth the wait. Prokofiev's Concerto is sometimes austere yet it is also wonderfully melodic and it leaves the performer no room for error. Helena's performance was completely riveting and proved why she is in such great demand. The stately opening of the slow movement is totally demanding of the soloist and Helena produced a beautiful sweetness. And the strident, sometimes abrasive last movement had a tremendous clarity of sound which rounded off a completely-thrilling, well-balanced performance. The orchestra, under regular conductor Simon Thompson, had opened the concert with Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite Number One. This is one of those works often heard on disc but too rarely heard in live performance. Each of the four sections, originally written as incidental music to Ibsen's play, is an individual gem and the orchestra with Mr Thompson achieved a completely-harmonious performance. The concert ended with Bizet's Symphony in C Major. Written when he was just 17 but not performed until 1935 when it was rediscovered, the work is anything but immature. It is very easy listening and provided the only reference of the evening to Mozart. In both the Grieg and the Bizet, oboe player Sarah Devonald was outstanding. In particular, the oboe theme in the symphony's Adagio was extremely fine. This is very encouraging for the orchestra's next concert on May 12 when Sarah will be soloist in Mozart's Oboe Concerto. JOHN MANNING
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